5 Years Too Late

Fishguard & Goodwick station in 2013
Modern failure – The re-opened Fishguard & Goodwick station
A few weeks ago, I stumbled across an online article from one of Pembrokeshire’s local newspapers regarding a proposal for a Fishguard and Goodwick railway museum. Apparently, the town councillor behind the idea is discussing the possibility of locating the museum at Fishguard & Goodwick station with Pembrokeshire County Council.

Goodwick station before demolition
Worthy Heritage – Goodwick station before demolition
Five years ago, I would almost certainly have thought this was a great idea. However, in August 2011 Pembrokeshire County Council demolished the original 1899 station building, which would have made a great home for the museum. In fact, not only could it have housed the museum it would itself have been a worthy exhibit. However, although Pembrokeshire County Council have constructed a replacement building, it does not have the stylistic qualities of the original.

Somewhere else which might have made a good home for a railway museum is Boncath station, which was up for sale recently, but Boncath isn’t the most accessible place in the world. Goodwick is better in that regard, but the new station building is a total failure in aesthetic regard.

The article referred to is here.

Since this is a rather short post, and relates to the old building at Goodwick station, I have recovered and re-published one of the old posts on the subject from my long-lost original blog. The recovered post can be found here.

Crossing The Cleddau

Most weeks, I commute to work in Pembroke Dock. I haven’t mentioned this before because I don’t use public transport, I travel with my father who drives. Normally, the roads are relatively quiet most of the way, suggesting there is little or no justification for a public transport service on our route to work.

However, the other week the Cleddau Bridge, on the main road between Haverfordwest and Pembroke Dock, was closed to all traffic due to high winds. We don’t use this route, partly because the Cleddau Bridge has a toll and partly because it would involve going through Haverfordwest, which would slow us down. A lot of other people do though, apparently, since the Cleddau Bridge closure had forced the council to put men with stop-go boards to control traffic over the narrow bridge at Carew. This is on our route, and normally the traffic is light so we don’t have to wait long for oncoming traffic to finish crossing the bridge before it is our turn.

With the Cleddau Bridge closed however the stream of traffic over the Carew was constant, if the men with stop-go boards hadn’t been there nobody going in the other direction would have been going anywhere, perhaps for hours. This suggests that there is an awful lot of car commuting over the Cleddau Bridge between Pembroke / Pembroke Dock and Haverfordwest on a normal weekday, traffic which perhaps ought to be captured by public transport. This reminded me of one of my wild ideas, and made be think it might not be so wild after all.

Class 158 train on the Milford Haven branch in Pembrokeshire
Pembrokeshire Train: class 158 on the Milford Haven branch
The idea is this: create a railway bridge from Pembroke Dock across to Newland and rebuild the railway from there to Johnston, creating a circular Whitland – Tenby – Pembroke – Neyland – Haverfordwest – Whitland rail route around Pembrokeshire. This railway bridge would be lower down, so unlike the road bridge shouldn’t have to close when it gets windy, but you might need an opening section to allow ships to pass through. Yes, it would be hugely expensive, but if the traffic’s there it might actually be worth doing. The biggest problem I can see is getting the track through the town from Pembroke Dock station to the new bridge, I think the line used to continue into the dockyard but I’ve not noticed any evidence of where it ran.

What do you think, wild idea or not?

Disentangling The Distortion

In the third (and hopefully final) part of my series on blanket route numbering of bus services, I present proposals for sorting out the problems described previously.

X50 and 550 route logos on bus stops
Comparative Clarity: there used to be two Cardigan-Aberystwyth route numbers, which clearly distinguished most workings
To start, I will continue using my example of the mess north of Cardigan with the X50, 552 and 554 local services and the TrawsCymru T5 service. In this area, I would suggest the following routes, any of which could have short workings if necessary to appropriate service frequencies:

  • Aberystwyth – Aberaeron – Cardigan – Fishguard (direct services only). These would be the only TrawsCymru services, personally I’d call it the TC5 rather than just T5. If you don’t want the college-days-only short working between Aberaeron and Cardigan branded as TrawsCymru that could be known as the X50 all by itself
  • 50 Aberystwyth – Aberaeron – New Quay – Cardigan
  • 550 Aberystwyth – Aberaeron – New Quay – Aberporth – Cardigan
  • 552 New Quay – Llangrannog – Tresaith – Aberporth – Mwnt – Gwbert – Cardigan (Cardi Bach route)
  • 554 Beulah – Tresaith – Aberporth – Cardigan

With the above, for example, passengers from Aberporth to Penparc would have a clear choice of 550 or 554, they would know the 552 goes via Gwbert and is not for them. People bound for Gwbert from Cardigan would know they need a 552, and passengers for Aberporth would be able to see ’50’, ‘X50’ or ‘TC5’/’T5’ and know they needed to wait for a 550, 552 or 554. There are probably many more examples of the improved clarity this would bring. Admittedly Llangrannog’s once-weekly fast(ish) service to Cardigan would have to become a normal slow service via all the beaches, but nobody with a choice of mode is going to rely on such an infrequent service. Also, the one journey between Beulah and Cardigan via Gwbert would be re-routed via Penparc, meaning Beulah-Gwbert journeys would always require a change of bus, but that’s not likely to be a popular flow and an extra 552 (probably a short working between Cardigan and Aberporth/Tresaith) should be put in to maintain service levels at Gwbert.

X50 Optare Tempo bus in Aberystwyth
New Quay or not? The branding and destination blind suggest not, but in 2014 most X50 services did go via New Quay
The above is just to show it should be possible to solve the problem, but how to avoid the creation of blanket service numbers in the first place? I don’t think a hard-and-fast rule is possible, since an application of common sense is required. For example, there are two different routes that buses may take through Penparc, and some buses detour via Aberaeron school. I made the decision that the routes are not significantly different, with all points being within walking distance of the main route. Essentially, there needs to be a basic guideline but with a single mind to make a personal judgment. The person best placed to do this would probably be the Traffic Commissioner for each area. Bus services must be registered with the Traffic Commissioner, so they could be responsible for judging whether routes are significantly different, and preventing registration of services which would lead to a settlement being served by more than one ‘significantly different’ route with the same number. If they receive a registration which conflicts with this policy, they would instruct the operator(s) concerned to use a different number (or numbers).

Damp Sparks

Bridges on electrified railway near Deansgate station in Manchester
Northern Wires: electrified line in Manchester
Despite the good news I reported previously, that the planned electrification to Swansea is to go ahead, the delays experienced on the Great Western may have started to shed doubt on further projects.

This worrying development comes from comments by Rail minister Claire Perry that electrification is not the only means of improving rail services, which suggest the government may losing faith in electrification. Apparently, in response to calls for electrification of the north Wales coast line, she also said “electrification makes no difference to many passengers” and “Many people, including myself, won’t comprehend if we’re on a diesel or electric train.”

Direct Rail Services class 37 locomotive and mark 2 coaches
No underfloor engines here: DRS class 37 and mark 2 coaches
To this I must ask if she is deaf, or are the only diesel trains she uses locomotive-hauled, such as the INTERCITY 125 or the Cumbrian Coast relief trains operated by DRS? When I get off a Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) and change onto an electric or loco-hauled train I almost always notice how much quieter the interior of the electric/loco-hauled train is. I say ‘almost always’ because passengers are sometimes even noisier than under-floor diesel engines. Outside the train, a diesel locomotive or DMU is generally louder than an electric train.

London NO2 emmsions map
The Great Western (with many diesel trains) shows up red, map of harmful emissions in the London area from the Aviation Environment Federation
The government becoming disinterested in electrification is worrying because noise reduction isn’t the only benefit of electric rolling stock, far from it. Perry is correct to say that improvements can be had without electrification, but there are some benefits only electrification can bring and others for which electrification is the best option. An example of the latter is journey time, you can speed up a diesel train by increasing the power available, but this will increase fuel consumption and hence both running costs and pollution. The UK’s electricity mix may not be particularly clean, but at least the gasses harmful to human health that are produced by burning diesel aren’t released in densely populated areas. Improvements to the electricity mix will only further strengthen the benefit of electrification. Furthermore, electric trains are generally lighter because they don’t have to carry their power source with them, meaning it takes less energy to move them. That’s something you cannot do with a diesel train.

One of the locomotives which set the world speed record for a diesel train
Record Breaker: 43159, which holds the world record for a diesel train (148mph). Photo by mike_j’s photos on Flickr
Other countries seem to have realised this years ago. In 1987, France already had its first ‘Ligne Grande Vitesse’ (LGV), a high-speed line (electrified of course) with services operated by TGVs capable of 162mph. In the same year, British Rail set a world record for the fastest diesel train when an Intercity 125 set did 148mph. While it is a fair argument that Britain is a smaller country and didn’t really need a high-speed line, that diesel speed record remains unbeaten to this day (a specialised TGV currently holds the record for the fastest wheel-on-rail train in the world). That suggests other countries have either electrified all their primary routes or have built high-speed lines to become their primary routes.

First Great Western Intercity 125 train on a section of overhead-electrified line
Under the wires: A Great Western IC125 on a section electrified for Heathrow Express. Photo by Martin Addison on Flickr.
In contrast, there has been very little progress in electrifying Britain’s rail network since privatisation; although a slow start was finally made when the Liverpool-Manchester project got underway just two years ago. Several key Intercity routes, the Midland Main Line, Great Western Main Line and the Plymouth-Bristol-Birmingham-Leeds-York ‘CrossCountry route’ remain diesel-worked. The branch of the West Coast Main Line from Crewe to Chester, which sees hourly Intercity services from Euston (some services continuing to Holyhead and Bangor), is also stuck with diesel trains. The Great Western and Midland main lines are of course finally earmarked for electrification, along with the key TransPennineExpress route between Manchester and Leeds/York, but CrossCountry remains diesel. Many parts of the Great Western, even some with hourly Intercity trains, including the very long distance from Newbury to Penzance are also excluded from the current projects. There is therefore a need to keep the electrification teams rolling across the network once the current projects are (at long last) delivered.

In the specific case of the north Wales coast line, which Parry was apparently discussing, the current London Euston-Bangor/Holyhead services are operated using the diesel Super Voyagers. These have high fuel consumption and are widely criticized for having noisy under-floor diesel engines, among many other flaws. Between London and Crewe, they are burning diesel under the wires; they’re not bi-modes like the class 800 trains currently under construction for the Great Western to compensate for the fact that the lines to Hereford and Cheltenham which aren’t included in the electrification scheme.